Did Kelly Get the Mooch Fired?

Reading between the lines of a lot of news stories, my impression is that incoming Chief of Staff John Kelly either had Scaramucci fired as a condition of taking the job, or Scaramucci was unwilling to continue to work at the White House on Kelly’s terms. NPR:

Scaramucci’s departure followed the Monday-morning swearing in of the new White House chief of staff, retired Gen. John F. Kelly. Scaramucci had negotiated an unusual deal to report directly to the president rather than the chief of staff (Reince Priebus at the time).

“Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team,” a statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We wish him all the best.”

Kelly was possibly unwilling to work at the White House unless everyone (but Trump) reported to him; Scaramucci may have been unwilling to work there under that condition. Or, maybe Kelly was unwilling to work with the Mooch under any circumstance.

The more interesting questions of the day are, who the hell would be idiot enough to take the job of White House Communications Director? It’s like a one-way ticket to being a national laughingstock.

Second, will Kelly be able to make a dent in the chaos? Or should we start a betting pool predicting the date he resigns?

When Truth Bites

A woman who makes a really bad choices in marriage sooner or later faces a sad reality: The boy-child she married will never, ever grow up to be the husband she needs him to be. And then she has to make the choice — stay in a miserable marriage for the sake of the children (and/or the financial security) or bail.

Well, I think collectively Republicans are facing that sad reality. Donald Trump is never, ever going to grow into the job of POTUS, nor can be be managed into playing the role for the cameras. The truth is that Republicans as a party would be better off with a Democratic POTUS than with Trump. Having a Democratic president to blame would not only help them with constituents, but ironically they’d probably be able to pass some of their agenda, rather than none of it.

Don’t forget that Trump and his cronies are aliens to Republican insiders. Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer were the only “establishment” Republican Party guys in the White House, unless you count Mike Pence, and now they are gone. Trump’s public harassment of Jeff Sessions is also causing serious alarm among Republicans.

After the recent “repeal” defeat, Republicans signaled they were ready to move on from health care.  But Trump, after doing just about nothing to help the party’s bills in Congress, isn’t having it. He’s now harassing Senate Republicans into trying again.

For the second day running, the Republican president tweeted his impatience with Congress’ inability to deliver on his party’s seven-year promise to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare bill commonly known as Obamacare. Members of his administration took to the airwaves to try to compel lawmakers to take action.

But it was unclear whether the White House admonishments would have any impact on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who control both houses signaled last week that it was time to move on to other issues.

He’s not offering any new ideas or approaches, mind you. He just wants a bill to sign. Also, this:

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House budget office, clarified a vague threat issued by President Trump on Twitter on Saturday, saying the president wants members of Congress to bear more of the burden for their heavily subsidized health insurance if they fail to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In one of the 13 tweets he rattled off on Saturday, Trump wrote: “If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

The Affordable Care Act required members of Congress, along with their staff, to buy health-care insurance through the online markets created under the law, the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency. But the lawmakers and their staff members generally make too much to qualify for subsidies under the law meant for low-income Americans. So President Barack Obama decided to let individual congressional offices be counted as small businesses, thereby allowing members and their staff to qualify for the subsidies.

On Saturday, Trump threatened to undo that Obama administration decision, effectively yanking away the federal government’s contribution to the insurance plans of members of Congress and their staff. Currently, their employer (i.e., taxpayers) pays 72 percent of their premiums.

“I talked to the president at length about that exact issue yesterday,” Mulvaney said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He continued, “What he’s saying is, look, if Obamacare is hurting people, and it is, then why shouldn’t it hurt insurance companies and, more importantly perhaps for this discussion, members of Congress?”

This is not exactly how to win friends and influence people. I wrote last February that Trump is the boss from hell. By now it’s clear that his only management “skill” is to harass people, which is causing actual management experts to write op eds about why that’s not how to manage people. He has no appreciation of how big organizations with many departments function. He has no clue about how to work with other people to achieve goals.

He is, in short, absolutely useless. If you are a Republican he’s less than useless; he’s a liability. Many Republican politicians have been distancing themselves from Trump for a while now. And much of the old guard of conservatism in media washed their hands of Trump months ago — Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, George Will, Ross Douthat, Jennifer Rubin, Erick Erickson, and pretty much the entire staff of National Review are all refusing to carry water for their Republican president. (See, for example, the latest NR feature from Kevin D. Williamson, “Death of a F***ing Salesman.”)

And he’s only been POTUS for six months. We’ve got three and a half years to go.

Trump is still somewhat protected from impeachment by the fact that impeachment proceedings must originate in the House, and the average House Republican is a right-wing extremist and nuttier than a peanut farm. The ones from solid red districts, which are a lot of them, will stand by their man for a while longer. As bad as his national approval numbers are, he’s still above 50 percent in seventeen states.

But if the next six months are anything like the last six, pressure to axe Trump is going to build to a critical point within the Republican party. The only question is, will the party make a move to get rid of him before the 2018 midterms, or after?

Don’t Mess With Lisa Murkowski

A lot of people are talking about John McCain’s “no” vote on “skinny” repeal. But this is more interesting:

A lot of the media coverage in the wake of the vote will focus on McCain, because he’s the most famous, and Collins was always going to vote “no.” But Murkowski’s opposition was equally decisive and perhaps most illustrative of the problems ahead for Trump.

Trump, who won Alaska by 15 points, ripped the state’s senior senator on Twitter Wednesday after she opposed a key procedural motion to open debate on health care:

Later that day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke called Murkowski and the state’s other Republican senator, Dan Sullivan, to threaten that the Trump administration may change its position on several issues that affect the state to punish Murkowski, such as blocking energy exploration and plans to allow the construction of new roads. “The message was pretty clear,” Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Nevertheless, Murkowski persisted. In fact, she took it one step further and demonstrated that she has more leverage over Zinke than he has over her. As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski indefinitely postponed a nominations markup that the Interior Department badly wants.

And the moral is …

Only an amateur would threaten the person who has oversight over his agency!

Note that Murkowski isn’t up for re-election until 2022.

Did the Joint Chief Just Diss Trump?

It’s subtle, but the Chiefs do seem a tad huffy.

As you probably heard, yesterday the Embarrassment in Chief tweeted that there would be no more transgendered people in the military.

First question: Who does he mean by “my generals”? ‘Cause the Joint Chiefs didn’t see this coming. I presume he means the generals in his cabinet. But a policy about personnel should have been run by the Joint Chiefs first, I think.

The Chair of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, sent a message to the chiefs of the military branches and senior enlisted leaders saying that the military does not respond to tweets. Also, the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”

“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford wrote in the internal communication, a copy of which was provided to POLITICO. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions,” he continued.

One suspects that if Gen. Dunford agreed with the policy change, he would have written a somewhat different message. But he might have been just pissed off about being given an order by tweet. Big, complex organizations like the United States military require protocols and procedures to function. I suspect tweeting isn’t in the handbook.

Second question — what “medical cost”? Apparently this ban came about because some House Republicans were on some kind of rampage about the military spending money on medical services related to transitioning. The Washington Post pointed out that the military spends ten times more on erectile dysfunction treatments.  And that’s five times more on Viagra alone. Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers more than trans soldiers health care.

It appears the White House expected cheering and wild applause from the Right and figured it would make a great wedge issue next year …

… but so far, the response has been relatively subdued. And some prominent GOP lawmakers, including Orrin Hatch, John McCain, Joni Ernst and Richard Shelby, publicly disagreed with the ban. So much for wedgies, eh?

We’ll see if the White House even bothers to go through with this nonsense now.

Sessions Hangs On

Donald Trump is transparent in one way — he doesn’t know how to hide his motivations. It’s plain as day he wants Jeff Sessions out at Justice because Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, meaning he’s useless as far as Trump is concerned.

Sessions probably took the job of Attorney General thinking that Trump intended him to be the Attorney General, not the Trump family consigliere. That was an honest mistake. I’ve read a number of news stories over the past few days saying that being AG is Sessions’s “dream job.” And he’s having a grand time reinstating failed 1980s-era drug policies and bringing back civil forfeiture. Further,

Perhaps more than any other member of Trump’s Cabinet, Sessions has been an uncompromising advocate for Trump’s agenda. The attorney general has worked methodically to dismantle Obama’s legacy at the Justice Department: reconsidering the department’s efforts to make troubled police departments change their practices, changing the DOJ’s stance on voter-ID lawsuits, and rolling back former Attorney General Eric Holder’s sentencing guidelines that were aimed at reduced incarceration and balancing out drug-crime-related punishments.

Every pick for a U.S. Attorney’s office that Sessions has made has underscored the administration’s focus on border security. He’s visited the border twice to emphasize a desire to prosecute undocumented immigrants. He’s passionately defended Trump’s so-called travel ban and threatened to withhold funding from “sanctuary” cities.

If you’re a cold-hearted, vindictive right-wing weasel, what could be better? But Trump is not satisfied.

Just today, Trump tweeted his displeasure that Sessions has not fired Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Why should McCabe be fired? Because his wife ran for office in Virginia as a Democrat in 2015 and received contributions from the state Democratic Party.

I understand Trump tweeted those tweets from one part of the White House while Sessions himself was at a meeting in another part of the White House. Trump hasn’t talked to Sessions directly for some time, I understand.

Los Angeles Times:

Trump’s tweets are based on several false claims.

McCabe’s wife Jill McCabe, a pediatrician, ran for a seat in the Virginia State Senate in 2015 and lost to the Republican incumbent.

At the time, McCabe had no role in the Clinton investigation. When Jill McCabe entered the race, her husband was not working at FBI headquarters, but was a senior official in the Washington field office, working primarily on counter-terrorism investigations.

By the time Andrew McCabe did become FBI deputy director in February 2016, which would have given him some role in overseeing the Russia investigation, his wife’s campaign had been over for three months.

Jill McCabe, like most Democratic candidates in Virginia, did receive money from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and from the state Democratic Party. McAuliffe is a longtime political ally of the Clintons, but there is no evidence that Hillary Clinton was involved in the donations.

And this was yesterday:

Trump continued his assault on Sessions in a Wall Street Journal interview published Tuesday afternoon — this time in highly personal terms. Trump suggested to the paper that Sessions, his earliest endorser among Senate Republicans, had backed Trump’s candidacy only because he saw the big campaign rallies and wanted a piece of the action.

“When they say he endorsed me, I went to Alabama,” Trump said. “I had 40,000 people. He was a senator from Alabama. I won the state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. But I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”

Ouch. The president of the United States basically just called his own attorney general thirsty. Sessions really stuck his neck out to endorse Trump when all of his colleagues were still skeptical; Trump just spat on that endorsement.

Two days ago, Trump publicly floated the idea of replacing Sessions with Rudy Giuliani. So Trump is making Sessions’s job a living hell, apparently hoping he will resign. Sessions says he’s not going anywhere.

What’s weird about this, though, is that if this is about firing Robert Mueller, replacing Sessions wouldn’t help. Under current law, the only person who could fire Robert Mueller is Rod Rosenstein, the person who hired him. If Rosenstein refused to fire Mueller, Trump would have to replace Rosenstein. But Trump never talks or tweets about Rosenstein. It may be Trump is too brain-addled to understand all the steps.

The Great Democratic Reboot: Why I’m Underwhelmed

So the Great Democratic Reboot was rolled out today. Let me express why I am underwhelmed.

First Mistake. The Reboot was announced with an op ed by Nancy Pelosi in the Washington Post and an op ed by Chuck Schumer in the New York Times.  The CNN story has a photo of Schumer and Pelosi together. I’m not seeing it in many other places.

This would have been a nice time to put some other faces forward, especially faces from Rust Belt or other states that aren’t already solid blue. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio might have been a good choice.  Or how about Al Franken of Minnesota? He’s great on the teevee. I was looking at a list of Democratic senators and realized there are several I’ve never heard speak, ever. Same thing with the House Dems. Isn’t in time for the old guard to let some of the younger people be The Face of the Party?

Instead, we get the same old faces who have spoken for the party since Reconstruction — a senator from New York and a congresswoman from San Francisco. And the Dems need to realize that in red country, people especially hate Pelosi. I acknowledge that isn’t fair to Pelosi, but it is what it is. If you want to reach voters who are not loyal Democrats already, don’t put Pelosi’s face on the message.

Second Mistake. The messengers probably won’t matter, however, because the news is focused on Jared Kushner’s testimony to the Senate investigators today. The Reboot will come and go with most of the nation not noticing.

Third Mistake. The Rollout features three main ideas: One, the Dems commit to creating 10 million full-time, good-paying jobs in the next five years, or I assume in whatever five-year period follows implementation of the Democratic plan to do this. Two, Dems will fight monopolies and big corporate mergers. Three, they pledge to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Excuse me while I yawn. If you have trouble falling asleep, skip the Ambien and just read the Great Democratic Reboot to yourself. It’s non habit forming, I promise.

Now, I’m not saying these are not worthy goals; of course, they are. But to working-class folks this is going to come across as more blah blah blah.

Jeff Stein wrote at Vox:

Not everyone will be thrilled with this strategy. Centrists in the party may worry that this tactic risks making Democrats look like far-left ideologues, and argue that the party lost last fall because its leader was already seen as too far to the left for most voters.

That anyone would consider those three points to be “far left” tells you how out to lunch too many Democrats are.

And those closer to the Bernie Sanders (I-VT) wing of the party will charge that Democrats have still done little to shake their ties to elite donors and should much more firmly embrace universal programs, like a single-payer health care model and free college tuition for all.

I wrote last week why I thought Democrats ought to be making all the noise they can about health care right now. Another shovel-ready issue Dems ought to be talking about is infrastructure.  The Reboot plan does mention infrastructure, but IMO it should be more prominent.

The U.S. is sitting on a $4 trillion infrastructure time bomb, the BBC says, as our roads and bridges and dams and tunnels and the power grid and airports and public transportation systems rot from underfunding and neglect. Why aren’t we putting the nation to work fixing this stuff? This is something tangible and understandable; vague bleats about jobs in a generic sense comes across as empty promises.

Democrats may think they already tried to sell that idea back in 2009, but most people here in red state land heard little about it except that it would cost a lot of money. The big block to the plan, of course, is that it would be a big outlay of tax dollars (although once the bridges have collapsed and the roads are no longer drivable, we’ll end up spending more to rebuild them).  Donald Trump promised an infrastructure plan, but what little he ever trotted out amounted to tax incentives to private companies to fix infrastructure, which frankly makes no sense to me.

Other criticisms I’ve heard about an infrastructure plan is that the nation is short of skilled workers to carry it out. Okay, so train them. Also, all this rebuilding would take many years. Sounds like a feature, not a bug.

Back to health care — it’s criminal that the Dems don’t mention health care in their plans except for prescription drug prices.  And I had read they were going to endorse a $15 / hour minimum wage, but neither Schumer nor Pelosi mentioned that. Cold feet?

There are a lot of other policies I’d like to have seen, like maybe a pledge that next time the financial sector crashes the economy, people will be prosecuted for it. But IMO it’s more effective to pick one or two tangible programs to sell to people than a laundry list of vague intentions.

If Democrats think that just injecting some buzz about a rigged economy into their rhetoric is going win people over — especially with the same old faces delivering the message — I don’t think so.  And they’re going to have to get bolder, and more specific, and be willing to point out Republican failures in starker terms.

Why the Democrats Will Not Take Back Congress Next Year

As badly as Republicans are screwing up, expect them to maintain control of Congress next year. Because the Democrats can’t lead an opposition out of a wet paper bag.

Ed O’Keefe and Dave Weigel write in WaPo:

Completely sapped of power in Washington, top leaders of the Democratic Party now believe that the best way to fight a president who penned “The Art of the Deal” is with an economic agenda that they plan to call “A Better Deal.” …

…Democratic leaders shared few details to preserve suspense around the plan, which is scheduled to be unveiled Monday at an event in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, where the party hopes to defeat incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R). But some lawmakers, aides and outside advocates consulted on the new agenda said that it is expected to focus on new proposals to fund job-training programs, renegotiate trade deals and address soaring prescription-drug costs, as well as other issues. It is also expected to endorse long-held Democratic principles, including “a living wage” of $15 per hour and already unveiled spending plans for infrastructure that would expand broadband Internet access into rural counties.

In other words, instead of a vision for the future, Dems are once against trotting out a laundry list of programs that most voters will never hear about anyway. It’s not bad, but it’s not enough; more blah blah blah. And note no mention of health care.

How did they come up with this tepid gruel? Dana Milbank provides a clue:

As important as what’s in it is what’s not. Democrats jettisoned social and foreign policy issues for this exercise, eschewing the identity politics and box-checking that has plagued Democratic campaigns in the past, most recently Hillary Clinton’s. This will be purely an economic message.

They also resisted invitations to steer the party toward the center (as pollster Mark Penn advised) or in a more progressive agenda. This is meant to be a populist manifesto that doesn’t conform to the left/right debate but instead aims to align Democrats with ordinary, middle-class Americans fighting powerful special interests.

I think they forgot the “manifesto” part. The Democratic Party is like your unhip parents trying to be cool, and failing.

And then there’s this:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also told the newspaper that Democrats are not looking for a “course correction,” but rather a “presentation correction.”

Sweetums, you need the course correction. Trust me.

Benjamin Hart writes at New York Magazine:

To quote Jeb Bush: please clap.

If this rather anodyne phrasing sounds familiar, it’s because it recalls two successful slogans of presidents past: Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal,” back in 1910, and, of course, FDR’s “New Deal,” which he rolled out to great effect in 1932. (You’d think there might have been advances in political branding technology in the intervening 85 years. You’d be wrong.) It also may work as a foil to the supposed “dealmaker in chief” who currently occupies the White House.

Both of the Roosevelts focused with laser-like precision on economic security for Americans, and today’s Democrats are attempting to follow suit.

I wrote yesterday in despair of Democrats’ seizing the opportunity on health care that the GOP has handed them. Yep; they’re going to blow it.

Let Them See How We Live. Let Them Come.

Behold, health care in the allegedly richest country in the world:

The sick and the disabled pour out of these mountains every summer for their one shot at free health care, but this year was supposed to hold hope for a better solution.

Donald Trump won the White House in part on a promise to fix the nation’s costly and inefficient health-care system. Instead, Republicans in Congress are paralyzed and threatening to dismantle the imperfect framework of Obamacare.

No relief is in sight for someone like Larry McKnight, who sat in a horse stall at the Wise County Fairgrounds having his shoulder examined. He was among more than a thousand people attending the area’s 18th annual Remote Area Medical clinic, where physicians and dentists dispense free care to those who otherwise have none.

A horse stall? Yes, the poor folks come from many miles away for medical treatment in facilities meant to house livestock at the county fair. Chain link fences and barbed wire add to the ambience.

Remote Area Medical, Wise, VA, 2014. Virginia Public Radio WVTF.

This is the sort of thing that’s supposed to only happen in third world countries, not that it should happen anywhere.

A third of the patients who registered Friday were unemployed. [Note: Even my feeble math skills tell me that means two thirds ARE employed.] Those who couldn’t afford a room slept in their cars or camped in the fields around the fairgrounds. They lined up in the dead of night to get a spot inside the event.

It is the place of last resort for people who can’t afford insurance even under Obamacare or who don’t qualify for Medicaid in a state where the legislature has resisted expansion.

Paul Ryan would call this “people exercising choices.” More about Remote Area Medical here.

A lot of people were there for dental and vision services, which usually aren’t covered on Medicaid (although you can get Medicaid with vision and dental in some states). This lady had four rotten teeth pulled:

“My teeth were hurting,” she said. McConnell, 63 and disabled, said she had health insurance through Medicaid but no dental coverage.

So this was her dental plan: She’d save for six months to afford a motel room and gas, then wait in line in the morning heat to see a volunteer dentist.

Virginians are especially screwed because they don’t have Medicaid.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who flew out to the clinic Friday morning, had invited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to join him but said that the Republican leader “politely” declined. McAuliffe, who visits the clinic every year, spent nearly two hours touring it — twice as long as scheduled — and took every opportunity to proclaim that he’s been trying for three years to get the state legislature to agree to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly has resisted, unlike the legislatures in nearby states, which McAuliffe kept reminding the patients and doctors who crowded around him on the hot fairgrounds. …

…“We need it,” called out Tonya Hall, operations director for a hospice-care facility. “Let them come and visit some in southwest Virginia. Let them see the poverty. Let them see how we live. Let them come.”

Let’s go back to our guy in the horse stall.

At 37, with a long graying ponytail, McKnight had never been sick until about eight months ago. So he hadn’t worried too much about not being able to afford insurance on his roughly $18,000 a year in pay as an auto mechanic. But now he was getting a referral to the University of Virginia hospital to check for the source of his pain, which he had vowed to withstand without resorting to opioid medication.

“The normal person doesn’t care about a lot of the things that they care about [in Washington]. Most people want to work, they want insurance and they want to be able to take care of their family without assistance,” he said.

The only way to do that, he said, is to have everybody — the healthy and the sick — paying into a centralized health insurance plan. “I really think the only thing that would truly help this country is if it were single-payer,” McKnight said.

Now, conventional wisdom in our liberal urban enclaves where Democrats talk only to themselves is that these poor rednecks are too stupid to know what’s good for them, so there’s no point going to them with better ideas. But if the wizards in charge of the Democratic Party had even half a clue, they’d be hiring teams of people to spread out through Appalachia and the rural South and Midwest and rust belt and everywhere else there are pockets of people who desperately need the federal government to step in and help them.

And those teams of people would be saying, look, the Republicans have betrayed you. Donald Trump betrayed you. All the plans they’ve been trying to pass in Washington wouldn’t give you anything and would take away what you gained under Obamacare, just so rich people can get more tax cuts.

This argument would have the power of being the plain truth.

The teams could be reinforced with television and radio ads. It should be a major blitz. And they should boldly talk about single payer, or Medicare for All, or whatever they want to call it. They should borrow from Ross Perot’s old playbook and go about with colorful graphs showing how much more the U.S. spends on health care than anybody else, because our system is a profit-taking mess. “See, people, it’s just this simple …” And don’t let Republicans scare anyone with lurid tales of “socialized medicine.”

People are already standing in line to get medical treatment in horse stalls. How much worse could it get?

But Democrats aren’t doing that. Because they’re losers. It’s to his credit that Gov. McAuliffe was there, but he doesn’t seem to want to go beyond preserving Obamacare.